Elon Musk and his aerospace company, SpaceX reignited people’s interest in spaceflight after putting 2 astronauts onboard the International Space Station(ISS). Needless to say, the amount of reception this mission received from the public was akin to a Super Bowl final. In fact, I was one of the millions who streamed this iconic mission live on YouTube. Seeing the Falcon-9 rocket soar high with the Crew Dragon capsule is a sight worth rewatching. Perhaps a monumental start to the future of human spaceflight, SpaceX’s Demo 2 launch is a cornerstone in Space Travel.
SpaceX’s Demo 2 successfully launched spacecraft commander Douglas Hurley and joint-operations commander, Robert Behnken, to the ISS. Going into 2020, this mission had a lot to prove. Promising an efficient alternative to ISS crew transport, NASA invested as much as $3 Billion in SpaceX. Although their competitor Boeing was given a $4.2 Billion contract, it was SpaceX who achieved this feat first.
The mission had a specific objective. First to dock with the ISS, autonomously, 19 hours after its liftoff. Subsequently, with the help of fellow astronauts on ISS, Hurley and Behnken would open the hatch and join them. While they are there, they would conduct the scheduled experiments at ISS. As of now, there is no confirmation as to how long the mission would last, but when the mission departs ISS, the Crew Dragon capsule would descend and return back to Earth in a two-day flight sequence.
SpaceX’s firsts in the Aerospace sector
SpaceX, being one of the first players in the reusable rocket technology, it is of no doubt that they are one of the most technically well-equipped companies in this industry. Striving to change the future of rocketry using cutting edge technological innovations, SpaceX’s Demo 2 mission was no different. To clarify, the ISS crew transport mission is not easy. However, to make it look easy Elon used a different system. Hence, writing their name on a long list of firsts in the Aerospace sector.
First crewed orbital flight operated by a commercial provider
If space race was between the Soviet Union and the U.S in the late 1950s, then currently it is between two commercial aerospace companies. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are racing towards the finish line. Boeing would then enter this cut-throat competition by securing a deal from NASA. However, the competition between Blue Origin and SpaceX is for reusable launch technology. Nonetheless, SpaceX surpassed either of them by successfully launching their Falcon 9 for Demo 2. Being the first crewed orbital flight operated by a commercial provider, SpaceX is on a mission to continue doing it. We will talk more about it towards the end of this article.
First crewed orbital spaceflight launch from the United States since 2011
Demo 2 wasn’t just a cornerstone in SpaceX’s career but also a significant milestone in the United States’ space program. Being the first manned mission since Space Shuttle’s retirement, Demo 2 holds a special place in America’s history. After aborting the mission on May 27, the mission was successfully accomplished on May 30. Around 10 million people around the world witnessed this historic flight live, online, while another 150,000 watched it from Florida’s space coast. Given the name of “Endeavour” by astronauts Hurley and Behnken, the spacecraft is reminiscent of their maiden missions on Space Shuttle Endeavour.
First human spaceflight mission using reusable launch vehicle since 2011, the first by a commercial provider
Although NASA’s Space Shuttle was the first reusable launch vehicle to reach orbit, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is the first reusable rocket to put mankind to space since then. Despite being a reasonable launch vehicle, NASA wasn’t able to cut costs. This called for an alternative. Elon Musk, on the other hand, was already working on making a reusable launch system practical. The reason why his company acquired this position is their rocket’s capability of being reused. Their Falcon 9 rocket has a reusable first stage and capsule (mainly for Dragon flights), and expendable second stage. Subsequently, it helped them push launch costs to below, lower than those of expendable launch systems. As of now, Falcon 9 is the only operational reusable orbital-class launch system.
First “fashionable” spacesuit
If you have seen any missions preceding the Demo-2, you might have noticed the difference in space suits. In the last manned mission by NASA, astronauts wore an Advanced Crew Escape Suit or A.C.E.S. This suit was nicknamed “Pumpkin skin” for its close resemblance to the vegetable. Needless to say, it wasn’t that fashionable, at least for this century and generation! Subsequently, the Constellation Space Suit replaced ACES, but it too wasn’t that “fashionable”. To put an end to this, SpaceX introduced their version of the spacesuit. Besides its aesthetic appearance, the suit is also comfortable for astronauts since it is much more compact. Although the company has made some of its features private, the spacesuit is supposedly made of Nomex and a blend of other materials. Furthermore, the helmet was built using 3D Printing technology, making it one of its kind!
SpaceX eyes for another historic launch
If Demo-2 was historic for mankind, then SpaceX’s next launch would be a milestone in Mars’ history. With another operational reusable launch vehicle, named “Super Heavy”, Elon Musk eyes for interplanetary human transportation. In other words, taking us to another planet to start a new life. This is the next historic launch of SpaceX, “Starship”. But before we get there, SpaceX is currently planning on using this next-generation spacecraft to land on the moon.
According to SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell said human transportation would begin by next decade. Judging by the way the project is taking shape, we may be able to see it sooner than a decade. They have already tested their new engine, on their “Starhopper” prototype. In “Elon Time” we can expect a Mars mission in 2022! As far as the first mission for the Starship is concerned, we might witness a launch this year or the next. There would be a series of launches for transport commercial payloads. Following the success of Demo-2, Elon Musk emailed his team to work on the Starship project. This is a clear indicator that SpaceX is speeding up the process!